Honduras Prison Fire: Half of Inmates Never Formally Charged

   on February 16 2012 10:34 AM
Honduras Prison Fire Kills 358
Tuesday night’s blaze burned and suffocated 358 men alive as it swept through the jail located just north of the Central American country's capital on Tuesday night, making it the world’s deadliest prison fire in a century. Reuters

Over half the prisoners held in a Honduran jail where over 350 burned to death were being held without formal charges against them, it emerged Thursday.

According to an internal Honduran government report obtained by The Associated Press, more than half of the 856 prisoners at Comayagua farm jail had never been formally charged with a crime.

Most were either awaiting trial or being held as suspected gang members.

Under strict Honduran anti-gang laws, just having a tattoo is enough to be incarcerated, the report said.

Tuesday night's blaze burned and suffocated 358 men alive as it swept through the jail located just north of the Central American country's capital, making it the world's deadliest prison fire in a century.

According to the report, which was intended for the United Nations, on any given day there were about 800 inmates in a facility built for 500.

Survivors told of witnessing horrific scenes where men were climbing walls to break through sheet metal roofing as they saw prisoners in other cells being burned alive. According to AP, inmates were found stuck to roofing panels, their bodies fused to the metal.

Speaking to Reuters, Honduran soldier Johnny Ordenez said:  The corpses are charred and some of them are stuck on top of each other.

You have to peel them apart like an orange.

On Wednesday, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo suspended national prison system director Danilo Orellana, who refused to comment on the tragedy.

As rescuers picked through the wreckage, piles of bodies were found stacked up in the bathrooms, where inmates had apparently fled hoping the water might save them from the flames.

According to AP, the charred remains of prisoners were found clinging to each other in bathtubs and curled up in laundry sinks.

The report stated that at night there were only 12 guards on duty - a fact many now say further hampered rescue efforts.

The fire was started by an inmate setting his mattress alight, with firemen arriving two minutes after receiving a call from prison officials.

But the handful of guards refused to open the gates for a further 30 minutes, fearing screams coming from the jail were from a prison riot. And even after being allowed in, rescuers said they had no access to keys and couldn't find guards to let them in.

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